Baha'i News -- U.S. Report Says Muslim States Low On Religious Freedom
U.S. Report Says Muslim States Low On Religious Freedom
By Jim Lobe
Article Dated 10/8/2002
In its fourth annual report on religious persecution, Washington pointed out Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and accused
remaining Communist states, including Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea, of similar offences.
It also noted serious problems in Pakistan, Sudan, India, Central Asia, and Nigeria, among other states.
In a rare criticism of Israel, the report noted that non-Jewish citizens there, chiefly Muslims, Druze and Christians,
remain subject to ''various forms of discrimination, some of which has a strong religious dimension''.
Israel's closure policy in the occupied territories over the past year has also prevented many Palestinians from
reaching their places of worship, it added.
In releasing the report, John Hanford III, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, stressed that religious
freedom was a potent weapon with which to ''fight the war on terrorism''.
''The (Sep. 11, 2001) attacks by al-Qaeda highlighted the reality that people can and do exploit religion for terrible
purposes, in some cases manipulating and destroying other human beings as mere instruments in the process,'' says the
''Where governments protect religious freedom, and citizens value it as a social good, religious persecution and
religion-based violence find no warrant,'' it added, noting that such protections were essential to avoid a potential
''clash of civilisations''.
But at least one Muslim organisation here said that the United States has itself fallen short in this area since the
Sep. 11 attacks.
''It would be very interesting to see what the authors of this report would say if they were to look at the United
States,'' said Jason Erb, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
''While there is not institutionalised discrimination, there's definitely a high tolerance for discrimination (against
Muslims) within the country right now, usually through religious profiling.''
The report is mandated under a law approved by Congress in 1998 after a lengthy and sometimes controversial campaign led
mostly by lawmakers associated with the Christian Right upset about reports of growing persecution against Christians in
China, India and Russia, as well as a number of Muslim countries.
Their original bill, which included far-reaching and mandatory economic sanctions against offending governments, was
targeted primarily at those regimes. But in the face of strong opposition from the administration of former president Bill
Clinton and corporate interests with major investments in China and key Arab oil-exporting countries, the bill was
significantly watered down.
The president, for example, is not obliged to impose sanctions against any of the countries named as worst offenders in
the report. But in coming weeks, the Bush administration could use the law to single out ''countries of particular''
concern and impose sanctions against them.
The report classifies abusive governments into five categories, ranging from totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that
try to control religious belief or practice, to those, including some European governments, accused of stigmatising certain
religions by associating them with dangerous ''cults'' or ''sects''.
In the first category, the report named Burma, China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. No significant improvements
were noted in any of these countries' policies toward religion during the past year, it said.
But the situation in Afghanistan, which had been included on the same list the preceding three years, improved
significantly as a result of the fall of the Taliban regime last December, said the report, which credited the new,
U.S.-backed interim government's commitment to religious tolerance.
The second category of abusive governments - in which Islamic regimes were especially featured - included those that
showed hostility toward minority or non-approved religions. These included Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and
the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
''Baha'is, Jews, Christians, Mandaeans, and Sufi Muslims reported imprisonment, harassment or intimidation based on
their religious beliefs'' in Iran, said the report, which also noted the imprisonments of journalists and publishers of
reformist newspapers on charges of ''insulting Islam'' or ''calling into question the Islamic foundations of the Republic''.
The report accused Iraq's Sunni Muslim leaders of pursuing ''systematic and vicious policies against the Shi'as'', the
country's largest religious group, as well as abuses against Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, while in Saudi Arabia,
''freedom of religion does not exist,'' it said.
In Pakistan, ''the government failed to protect the rights of religious minorities, due both to public policy and to its
unwillingness to take action against societal forces hostile to those that practice a different faith,'' the report found.
It pointed especially to continued violence against the Shi'a and Ahmadi minorities, as well as several lethal attacks
on Christian churches and agencies following the Taliban's ouster from Afghanistan.
The report also listed eight countries where the state has generally neglected the problem of discrimination and
harassment of minorities by non-official entities or local law enforcement officials. Violators in this category included
Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, and Nigeria. It singled out Egypt for having improved its
treatment of minority Christian Copts over the past year.
The fourth category included states that enacted discriminatory laws or pursued policies that disadvantage certain
religions. The report named Brunei, Eritrea, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Jordan, Malaysia, Moldova, Russia and
Turkey in this connection.
Some of the abuses included in the third and fourth categories and even in the first group - such as police surveillance
or unofficial harassment of minorities - could be applied to problems faced by Muslims in the United States, particularly
since Sep. 11, according to CAIR's Erb.
''We have a grave concern that all Muslims are now viewed as a security threat based on the acts of a few, and policies
enacted since Sep. 11 certainly had had the effect of stigmatising all Muslims, particularly immigrants from Muslim
countries,'' he noted.
He cited ''fingerprinting visitors from Muslim countries; interviews of Muslim immigrants where they have often been
asked questions about their religious practices; and the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) appears to be
infiltrating mosques in order to engage in surveillance of activity that should be protected by the First Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution (which guarantees religious freedom).''
''Abuses here certainly aren't as grave as in many countries cited in the report, but there are certainly parallels that
are interesting to note,'' Erb added.
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